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Letter from the President Spring 2023
Letter from the President Spring 2023
Combating Antisemitism with Legislation and Education
Thoughts about the U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism and Spertus Institute’s role in providing tools and training to Jewish community leaders
Recognizing today’s troubling rise in antisemitism and its increasing normalization, for the first time in its history, the U.S. government has issued a plan to specifically address this issue.
The U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism asserts that “we must confront antisemitism early and aggressively whenever and wherever it emerges from the darkness.”
The U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism was developed with input from more than 1,000 Jewish communal stakeholders, faith and civil rights leaders, and State and local officials. In its own words, it calls for a “whole-of-society effort to combat antisemitism, including unprecedented, coordinated, and bold actions that will be implemented across government agencies, as well as calls to action for public officials, private sector leaders, and Americans from every sector, industry, and walk of life.”
The Strategy notes the relationship of antisemitism with other forms of hate and points especially to the conspiracy theory that underpins a good deal of antisemitism today. Such hatred has taken root in today’s polarized society, where it represents a true threat to democracy. As result, the strategy calls for “Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs” to “work together to counter this scourge with urgency” and it emphasizes the need for education, allyship, and collective action.
The Strategy rests on four pillars:
- Pillar 1: Increase awareness and understanding of antisemitism, including its threat to America, and broaden appreciation of Jewish American heritage.
- Pillar 2: Improve safety and security for Jewish communities.
- Pillar 3: Reverse the normalization of antisemitism and counter antisemitic discrimination.
- Pillar 4: Build cross-community solidarity and collective action to counter hate.
Within each of these pillars, the Strategy articulates specific and measurable actions across government and society.
As a pioneer in professional education for Jewish community leaders, earlier this year Spertus Institute launched the Leadership Certificate in Combating Antisemitism to equip front-line leaders to respond to antisemitic incidents with strength, skill, and expertise.
The inaugural cohort is underway, working together with a team of experts.
I am proud that our work and these new government guidelines support each other in a number of key ways. Both recognize the importance of historical context and contemporary knowledge, dealing with nuance through a discussion of what antisemitism is and how it manifests. Both emphasize the need for intercommunal bridge and alliance building as well as practical skills in communications and social media.
Based on my decades of work in this area, there are several aspects of The U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism that I would like to highlight, including how these translate into our work with Jewish community leaders.
Pillar 1: It is important to educate about the Holocaust and the long history of antisemitism along with the valuable roles that Jews play in society today and have played in throughout history. It is important to educate people about the pernicious hatred of Jews as well as to foster positive internal and external images of Jews. The Leadership Certificate in Combating Antisemitism provides such a historical context and perspective, and throughout the program, we seek a balance between responding to threat and engaging in positive Jewish identity formation.
Pillar 2: To increase security, there is a need for thoughtful, consistent, and deep connections between Jewish communities, government, and law enforcement. Communications strategies should balance the need to keep our communities informed and safe, without being hyper vigilant. At Spertus, we explore these themes in relation to building relationships with groups within and outside the Jewish community. We spend significant time thinking about how best—when, in what form, with what goals—to communicate about antisemitism and crisis.
Pillar 3: Normalization of antisemitism, especially as legitimatized by public figures and through the information ecosystem—is an issue that we discuss in modules on antisemitism and hatred online. Countering antisemitism requires that action be taken to curtail this legitimization and hold people and companies accountable for permitting and providing a platform for antisemitism.
Pillar 4: The Strategy notes that antisemitism must be placed in conversation with other forms of hatred and bias. DEIA professional associations should include antisemitism awareness and religious accommodation requirements in their training. What is more, multi- and inter-faith work is essential for addressing antisemitism. The Strategy asserts that, “It is imperative that non-Jewish and Jewish communities work together and stand up for each other in order to counter antisemitism and other forms of hate. It is essential that non-Jewish voices continue to speak out and intensify their efforts to combat antisemitism.” We strongly agree and these issues receive particular attention in individual modules within the Leadership Certificate in Combating Antisemitism.
The U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism addresses many key issues of concern related to antisemitism today and for the future. As we continue with the second cohort of the Leadership Certificate in Combating Antisemitism program, beginning this fall, and as we explore ways to reach other, more diverse, and larger audiences, we will continue to build on our unique pedagogy of theory and practice, applying Jewish learning to address the most significant issues of today and the future. Building on nearly a century of educational innovation, Spertus remains committed to improving the world through our programs, initiatives, and partnerships around the U.S. and across the globe.
Thank you for supporting us in so many ways in this most needed work. If you know executives in the Jewish community who would benefit from the Leadership Certificate in Combating Antisemtism, I encourage you to share this message with them. If you know individuals and organizations that would be interested in providing finances and resources to support this Spertus initiative, I would be delighted to talk with them about how they can help combat antisemitism.
Dr. Dean P. Bell
President, CEO, and Professor of Jewish History
Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership